Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

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Still courtesy of TIFF.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (United Kingdom/Thailand/France/Germany/Spain, Masters)
4½ STARS
Poor old Uncle Boonmee can’t catch a break. Stricken with liver disease, Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) heads to the rural perimeter of northeast Thailand, hoping to pass on peacefully. His plan is disrupted when the ghost of his departed wife (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) appears at the dinner table, followed in turn by his long-lost son Boonsong (Jeerasak Kulhong) who materializes out of the darkness, dressed in a cheap B movie monkey suit. Their arrival, reincarnated as ghosts and goofy-looking gorillas, brings with it a shift in how Uncle Boonmee will live out his last days and how we must engage with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s truly masterful meditation on life, death, rebirth, and cinema itself.
Like previous features in Apichatpong’s filmography (Blissfully Yours, Syndromes and a Century), Uncle Boonmee is essentially a mood piece, one which glides through passages of remarkable natural beauty, human grace, and strange humour (like regional inside jokes about Laotians being “smelly,” or a surprisingly tasteful scene of a catfish nuzzling a princess into orgasm). All of this wonderful and bizarre imagery is birthed from Uncle Boonmee’s newfound knack for lucidly recalling his past lives, whether as a man, bull, or maybe even a horny catfish.
Its patent weirdness may explain why Cannes jury president Tim Burton, motivated perhaps by shades of envy and empathy, awarded the film the prestigious Palme d’Or at this year’s festival. But all the spirit monkeys and catfish sex are just the sillier shrouds for the film’s profound humanity and compassion for its characters. Should you possess the patience to give yourself over to the ebb of Apichatpong’s film, Uncle Boonmee’s bounties are nearly endless.
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